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phil-tuttlePhil Tuttle: Welcome to my blog! For those of you new to the site, I am the President of Walk Thru the Bible, an organization based in Atlanta, GA, dedicated to igniting a passion for God's Word—here in the U.S. and throughout the world. In this blog you'll find a crazy blend of random thoughts, bizarre humor, and even an occasional deep insight.

Please jump into the discussion because, as we all know, a conversation is way more fun than a monologue.


 

Update #5 from West Africa

Philip Tutu and I made it safely to Lomé Togo for the final stop of my West African training tour. Samuel Eklou and his team graciously received us and tonight I was blessed to preach at the church Samuel pastors. But before we focus on Togo, I need to tell you one more story from Ghana.

One of my favorite points from our Detour course comes in session one about Joseph and His Family. The point says "By trusting God, Joseph refused to be defined by the dysfunction of his family."

After all the mistreatment at the hands of his brothers, we might have expected Joseph to pursue payback when he finally had all the power. But Joseph chose forgiveness rather than revenge, integrity rather than deception, loyalty rather than betrayal.

2016 04 14 image 1When Philip Tutu presented this part of the course, he opened his heart and shared the story of his own childhood. Then God showed up and the rest of us acknowledged our own personal pain and begged God to set us free.

Philip described his parents' divorce when he was four. Then he shared how his alcoholic father went on to "marry" four other women. Each time, he would wake Philip up in the morning and introduce him to his new step-mother with a stern warning that he better obey her every word.

Even though Philip was very compliant, each of his mothers told his father lies about his terrible behavior. Then Philip's dad would take him into his bedroom. On the bed was a belt, a long narrow cane, and a shorter thicker stick. Philip was ordered to choose the tool for his severe beating.

This physical abuse continued day after day for years, but it was the psychological abuse that left the deepest scars. He was constantly told how wicked and worthless he was.

After Philip's father lost his job, Philip supported the family by gathering firewood and carrying into the village to sell it.

One of his mother's sisters recognized his work ethic and strong character. She took him to her home in the city and brought him into her business.

She was right about Philip. Like Joseph, God gave him success in all he did. It was in the safety of his aunt's home that Philip was introduced to the unconditional love of his Heavenly Father.

Philip worked his way through business school and later Bible college. Despite being far behind because of his early years, Philip not only kept up, but finished at the top of his class.

He eventually surrendered to God's call to ministry. After pastoring for a number of years, Philip found his long term home with Walk Thru the Bible and International Christian Ministries about ten years ago.

After decades of estrangement from his father, God brought them back together. But what would Philip do?

Like Joseph, Philip chose forgiveness rather than revenge, integrity rather than deception, loyalty rather than betrayal.

He lovingly supported his father in his final years. He also reconnected with his mother. At her funeral earlier this year, God used Philip to bring his eight siblings from four different fathers together as one family.

Yesterday Philip didn't just share the material. He stepped into the story. We were all overwhelmed by the power and grace of our Lord. It was one of the most inspiring messages I've ever heard. And like most of the pastors who were there, I will never be the same.

Update #4 from West Africa

Whoever said "getting there is half the fun" wasn't traveling from Lagos, Nigeria to Accra, Ghana with me yesterday.

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After preaching at one of our most influential partner churches, Francis dropped me off at the airport for my 4:15 pm flight. When we arrived at the airport we learned that my flight time had been changed to 6:30 pm.

After a chaotic check-in process that included long lines, thorough inspections of every bag, and multiple opportunities to pay a bribe to expedite the process, I eventually found gate D-33.

To call the concourse "hot" would be an insulting understatement. No problem, 6:30 will be here soon and the flight to Accra is only 50 minutes.

Not so fast. 6:30 came and went with no plane at the gate. There were no updates over the speaker system. No sign of our flight on the departure boards. When we would occasionally corner an airline employee to request an update, the response was always, "Later. Your plane will come later."

"Later" turned out to be about 11:00 pm.

Thanks to the one hour time change, our old-fashioned prop plane landed in Accra about the same time we took off. Our national director, Philip Tutu, had been waiting for me for seven hours.

After settling in to yet another hotel, I got a solid six hours sleep and woke up eager to teach but drained from a day spent in the heat and humidity.

My pity party took a serious hit on the way to our conference when Philip Tutu casually mentioned that he had only slept three hours. Because of the traffic, he had to leave his home at 5:00 am to pick me up at 8:30 am.

2015 04 13 image2When we arrived at the conference location, the first three groups of people I met described their travel adventures. Most had preached at their own churches and then driven all night so they could be equipped to teach a course on the life of Joseph, ironically named Detour!

And so I need to come clean and confess that I am officially a wimp. Like most Americans, I am spoiled and soft. My travel struggles were nothing compared to so many of our delegates.

The good news is that their hunger and gratitude, along with fresh filling by the Holy Spirit, pulled the very best out of Philip Tutu and me. We both taught with great freedom and energy. The connection was immediate, and nobody even came close to dozing off.

We taught the first three sessions today and will teach the final three tomorrow.

Once again we have a room full of influencers. The training director from Ghana's largest denomination is loving it and plans to take 500 teachers through Detour at their denominational conference later this year. Also with us is the pastor of the church where Ghana's President and Chief Justice attend. He believes this course can have a huge impact in Ghana's fight against corruption.

Philip Tutu is an amazing communicator and it was thrilling to realize how much closer African culture is to Bible times than ours is. Such powerful illustrations and applications! But more about that tomorrow after I guzzle some more water and get some sleep. Please keep praying. This trip is a marathon not a sprint.

Update #3 from West Africa

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I've always loved the quote, "Your perspective makes all the difference. To a worm, digging in the hard ground all day is way more fun than going fishing."

Pretty hard to argue with that logic. The angle from which we look at an issue, or the color of the lenses through which we view life can make all the difference.

I've been reminded of that reality over the past few days in Nigeria.

Francis and his team were upset because their attendance goal was 200 and the first day they only had 130. The second day the crowd grew to 150 but they still missed their target by 25%. Francis explained that the current scarcity of fuel had made it impossible for some of their most loyal leaders to make it.

I kept telling him that this event wasn't about attendance but how many of the "right" people were there to take the Crucible training home and actually teach it. God affirmed that with style because by the end of the conference, the 150 participants had ordered 15,000 workbooks. Our Nigerian team had only printed 2,000, so demand significantly exceeded supply.

Can you imagine? 150 leaders from 50 churches representing 10 denominations ordered 15,000 workbooks? Apparently we did indeed have the "right" people in the room! And God recalibrated our perspective as he reminded all of us that movements are built by multiplication rather than addition.

Update #2 from West Africa

2016 04 11 image 1Meet Francis Olubambi, our national director for Nigeria. We're team-teaching and training about 130 pastors and leaders in Crucible, our course on the life of David, here in Lagos.

I've known Francis for a long time. Probably nearly 15 years. But he's not the same man I used to know. Being with him on his own turf this week has highlighted his transformation.

When I first met Francis, he was brand new to our Walk Thru the Bible global network. He was introduced to our ministry by Phil Walker, who leads our best organizational partner, International Christian Ministries. Under Phil's leadership, ICM has built a network of Bible schools and seminaries across sub-Saharan Africa, and made the best of western resources accessible to African churches. Phil understood the wisdom of empowering national church leaders about a generation before the rest of the Church caught on.

My first impression of Francis years ago was as an overwhelmingly dominant presence. Even though he was attending his first Walk Thru the Bible global leaders conference, Francis had a strong tendency to speak first, loudest, and longest.

Through the years that first impression was confirmed as I watched Francis try to dominate every relationship he had. That included his team members in Nigeria, his fellow African leaders, and Walk Thru's regional directors from all over the world. His interactions with his wife Elizabeth and their three sons followed a similar pattern.

Fast forward a decade or so and the transformation is unmistakable. He's still a very strong leader. But now he leads by serving. The Spirit of God has remade my friend Francis from the inside out.

Humanly speaking, a lot of the credit belongs to Phil Walker. Phil has the same bull-in-a-china-closet natural wiring as Francis, but he learned long ago that his strengths pushed to an extreme become weaknesses.

It is Phil's mentoring that has shown Francis a better way. In Francis' office there's an old picture of Phil hanging on the wall. On my last visit Francis pointed to it and said, "Papa Walker taught me how to lead with love."

Today during Francis' session of Crucible I heard him exhort a roomful of Nigerian pastors to allow their children to make choices and to make sure their kids know that they are loved unconditionally. He spoke those words firmly, but with a gentleness that can only be developed in the crucible of real-life experience.

I smiled as I realized the Francis I used to know would never have uttered those words for fear of appearing weak. But now his authenticity motivated all of us to be more like Christ as leaders, spouses, and parents.

Make no mistake, Francis is still a strong leader. Otherwise there's no way our Nigerian team would have already launched God's Grand Story campaigns in more than 700 churches!

But now Francis is a gentle giant that others want to follow and work alongside. His natural strengths have been recast as spiritual gifts wrapped in the humility of the Savior he loves so much and serves so well.

Update From West Africa

Hello friends, and greetings from west Africa where we'll be launching Crucible (life of David) and Detour (life of Joseph) over the next 9 days. I really need your prayers as every day is either a teaching/training day or a travel day.

Fri 4/8. Teach/train first half of Crucible in Lagos, Nigeria with Francis Olubambi.

Sat 4/9. Teach/train second half of Crucible in Lagos, Nigeria with Francis Olubambi.

Sun 4/10. Preach here in Lagos and then fly to Accra, Ghana.

Mon 4/11. Teach/train first half of Detour in Accra, Ghana with Philip Tutu.

Tue 4/12. Teach/train second half of Detour in Accra, Ghana with Philip Tutu.

Wed 4/13. Drive to Lomé, Togo.

Thu 4/14. Teach/train first half of Crucible in Lomé, Togo with Samuel Eklou.

Fri 4/15. Teach/train second half of Crucible in Lomé, Togo with Samuel Eklou.

Sat 4/16. Drive back to Accra, Ghana.

Sun 4/17. Spend time with Philip & Janet Tutu.

Mon 4/18. Fly home to Atlanta through Amsterdam.

Tue 4/19. Arrive home in Atlanta.

As you can see, the schedule is pretty intense so pray for endurance especially in the 90° heat and 90% humidity.

Even more than the big events, this trip is all about multiplying our ministry through the pastors and other leaders we will train.

And most of all, it's about the encouragement and mentoring of our three wonderful leaders here in west Africa.

In the next few updates I'll introduce you to Francis, Philip, and Samuel -- three of the godliest leaders and best friends I could ever hope to have.

In the meantime, please start praying earnestly. There have already been several serious complications that indicate Satan is agitated about what God is planning to accomplish here in the next week and a half. Thank you for the assurance that you're here with me through the miracle of prayer.

Nicaragua Pastors Conference Final Update

2016 02 23 image 1Take a good look at this picture from Nicaragua. I had planned for my previous update to be my last. But then this picture happened, and I just have to share it with you.

On the left is Brenda Rose, the missionary from Harborside Christian in Clearwater, Florida. She's the one who has built this amazing network of pastors.

In the middle is a pastoral couple who have been to several of the conferences here in Managua.

On the right is Ramon, a first-timer who was invited by the couple in the middle.

And I'm the one sneaking the picture with my iPhone in real time as God brought the five of us together for a very unexpected conversation.

Ramon pastors a church in Nueva Guinea, a city six or so hours from Managua in the southeastern part of the country on the other side of Lake Nicaragua. He enthusiastically approached Brenda with a bold request. He was blown away by the conference in Managua, and now he wants to host a similar training event for pastors in his area.

Our conversation went something like this:

Brenda: How many pastors could you gather?

Ramon: 400 for sure. More if you need me to.

Brenda: No, 400 would be the most we would want. What denominations?

Ramon: All denominations.

Brenda: Is there a church that could host it?

Ramon: Yes, there is a large Assembly of God Church in our city.

Brenda: Will the Baptists come if it's at the Assembly of God?

Ramon: Yes. All denominations will come because all the pastors in our area are desperate for training like this.

Brenda: Have most of the pastors been to high school?

Ramon: Oh no. Most have only been to primary school. But they can all read and they are all working hard to learn their Bibles well.

Brenda: Phil, I'm not even going to consider this unless Walk Thru the Bible is willing to go with us.

Me: Ramon, I'm not sure my teaching style will be effective with your pastors. Don't you think it would be better to . . .

Ramon: With respect, you are wrong Phil. Communication in our culture is largely by stories, and you are a wonderful story teller. Even with your translator, the way you teach God's Word doesn't make our ears hurt.

Brenda: Ramon, I don't think we have the time or the money to do this. Why don't you begin praying that God will change my mind if He wants us to go there?

Ramon: (with a big smile) I will, and God will.

Ramon and the couple who had invited him hurried off to catch their bus while Brenda and I stared at each other and then burst out laughing. We've been in conversations like this before, and we know at some point we'll almost certainly end up in Nueva Guinea!

The total cost for three days of training for 400 pastors will likely be around $10,000 if local churches pitch in to provide the meals and lodging. It's not in either of our budgets, but it seems to be on God's heart.

Right before I started to write this update, I put Managua and Nueva Guinea into Google Maps. The software quickly marked both cities but then this message appeared:

"Directions Not Available: A route could not be determined between these locations."

"Perfect" I said out loud in a room all by myself. Now I know God's fingerprints are all over this plan. He loves it when Google Maps or anyone else tells Him what He can't do. Is there any doubt that He is already hearing and responding to the bold request of Pastor Ramon?

Brenda says there's no way she'll go without Walk Thru the Bible. And I say, there's no way Walk Thru the Bible will go without you. So how about it, are you all in?

Nicaragua Pastors Conference Update #2

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On the first day of our conference here in Managua we were scheduled to start our first session at 10:00 AM. A little before 8:00 AM I headed to the meeting room to go over last minute details and pray with our team.

To my surprise, the line to sign in and pay registration fees was already stretched across the lobby and growing by the minute. As I walked by these early birds, I made eye contact with quite a few of them. Because this is my fourth time to speak here, we exchanged warm smiles and joyful nods.

Several of the pastors jumped out of line to give me big hugs. Despite the language barrier, their message was clear -- thank you so much for coming back to see us again!

One pastor pulled me extra close and whispered in my ear, "Do you know why all these pastors love you so much?" After I shook my head he continued, "It's because you don't just teach us the Bible. You always give us powerful messages we can go home and share in our own churches. That's why even though we have to listen to you through a translator, you're our favorite speaker."

After sincerely thanking him, I continued toward our meeting hall with a brain full of conflicting emotions. I felt grateful, motivated, awkward, humbled, and encouraged all at the same time.

I also felt a little guilty that I was given credit for something that doesn't belong to me.

Like when Peyton Manning gets praised for throwing a touchdown pass and he knows a dozen nameless assistant coaches had called the ideal play after analyzing hours of game film. Not to mention the giant linemen who had protected him long enough to spot his favorite receiver who was wide open after running a perfect route.

That pastor didn't realize it, but he was actually celebrating the DNA of Walk Thru the Bible. It was bred into me by leaders who came before me. And hopefully it will characterize everything we do long after I'm gone.

We try to always train as we teach. To equip as we encourage.

Our ministry has never been about sending Americans to wow the rest of the world with our communication gifts. We exist to empower nationals to serve their own people with excellence and passion. We live for the miracle of spiritual multiplication that Paul challenged Timothy to pursue in 2 Timothy 2:2.

As I greeted the rest of our team, I broke out in a huge smile. That pastor had no idea that this year's conference was going to be even better than previous years. After my three messages on Barnabas and the power of encouragement, Alejandro and Victor from Honduras will present six sessions of our new church-wide Bible engagement campaign, called God's Grand Story.

And during their final session they will give each pastor a DVD with all six sermons and small group lessons voiced over in Spanish along with a reproducible workbook. Each hungry pastor will head home with everything he or she needs to launch their own campaign to ignite passion for God's Word in their own church.

And by the end of that final session, I'll be flying home to Atlanta, and all 240 pastors will just have to find somebody else to hug!

Nicaragua Pastors Conference Update

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This conference is underwritten by Charley and Mary Anne Babcock and their church, Harborside Christian, in Clearwater, FL led by Kurt and Danita Parker. The Babcocks and Parkers have been loyal Walk Thru partners for a long time, but it's only in the last five years that they've connected our ministry with this amazing group of pastors.

This is my fourth time here, and Alejandro and Victor, our Honduran leaders, attend all three conferences across Nicaragua each year. Every time I come I'm amazed by the hunger and gratitude of these faithful pastors.

Last October at our Live the Word donor conference, Charley heard some new talks I am developing on the life of Barnabas and said, "You have to come share these truths with our pastors in Nicaragua." My schedule was pretty crowded, but Charley insisted, "You have no idea how much these massages are needed there."

Real Repentance Is

Always The Result

Of Prayer...

Lots Of Prayer.

So here I am, and all I can say is "Charley was right."

Sometimes when you teach, a holy hush falls over the room. Nobody fidgets. Nobody coughs. It doesn't even seem like anyone is breathing. That has happened several times during our Barnabas sessions.

Occasionally Scripture collides head on with strongholds that are deeply rooted in a specific culture. That's what happened today. I could feel it, but I couldn't explain it. Brenda Rose, the missionary from Harborside who has built this amazing network of pastors, said "As you know, the pastors here often try to destroy each other rather than build each other up." Then it all made sense.

Brenda understands the culture because she has served there for so long. The example of Barnabas, whose name means "Son of Encouragement," was something most had never considered.

Barnabas chose to trust Paul when most early believers were afraid he was just trying to infiltrate the church so he could kill them. Barnabas recognized God's grace at work among the Gentile believers in Antioch when many leaders thought Judaism was the only approved path to knowing Jesus. And Barnabas fought to give John Mark a second chance after he had abandoned Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey.

2016 02 18 image 2Because I've been with this group several times they trust me, and they let me apply the scalpel of Scripture to their hearts. The small group discussions were deep and intense. And the pastors who shared their stories and asked me to pray for them are serious about aligning their lives with the example of Barnabas.

Charley was right. These were the right messages for this group at this time.

But proclaiming the right truth only works if that teaching is empowered by love and prayer. That's the part you play in weeks like this. Strongholds aren't torn down by well-constructed outlines, attractive visuals, or culturally-appropriate illustrations. Real repentance is always the result of prayer. Lots of prayer.

So thank you again for partnering with us so that lives, marriages, churches, and even a whole nation can be transformed by the truths of Scripture. And if you think Barnabas connected on a supernatural level, just wait until tomorrow when I tell you about Alejandro and Victor launching God's Grand Story with this amazing group of hungry pastors. Stay tuned and keep praying!

Hello from Managua, Nicaragua!

2016 02 16 image 1

Hello from 33,000 feet in the air somewhere between Atlanta and Managua, Nicaragua. We'll talk about why I'm going there in a minute, but first let's concentrate on the journey. It's a relatively easy trip of three and a half hours with no connections and only a one hour time change. Hard to believe an international trip can be easier than flying to California.

According to Delta, I've now flown 1,920,562 lifetime miles with them. Those are actual miles, or "butt in seat" miles as they're affectionately known by frequent flyers.

I'll probably hit two million miles later this year and apparently Delta has something special planned when I cross that threshold. But for me, their high quality of service and flawless safety record over the past 28 years is reward enough.

I still remember the first time I flew someplace to teach for Walk Thru the Bible. The year was 1989 and David Hodge, one of our ministry consultants, went out of his way to schedule my sixth Old Testament live event. I was a rookie instructor, and six was the fewest events that would get a person invited back to be trained in the New Testament.

I flew all the way from Bloomington, IL to Barboursville, WV. The pastor picked me up at the airport, breezed through a drive thru, and then insisted I stand next to the chair while his dentist performed an emergency root canal. Little did I know that would be the first of many times a funny thing happened on the way to the church!

That first round trip validated my fragile self esteem and affirmed my newly discovered gift of teaching. I was almost as proud of my frequent flyer card as my seminary diploma!

Nearly three decades later the thrill of air travel is long gone. School buses with wings, that's pretty much all they are.

But the thrill of traveling someplace new to share God's Word hasn't even begun to wane. Our Events department says I've taught over 400 live events in the U.S. How amazing that God has made His presence and power obvious every time without exception.

For the last 20 years, lots of my travel has been international. Rather than teaching a single church family, I more often get to encourage and equip groups of pastors, teachers, or business leaders.

This trip to Managua is that kind of opportunity. Over the next couple days I get to share three messages on the life of Barnabas with 250 pastors and spouses.

This is my fourth time at this amazing gathering sponsored by one of our donor couples and their home church. Our Central American Director from Honduras, Alejandro Oviedo, and our lead Central American trainer, Victor Soto, will present six sessions on God's Grand Story later in the conference.

Please pray for the three of us along with the rest of the team that serves these pastoral couples with such generosity and excellence. I'll try and post an update or two along with some pictures once we get rolling.

Our captain just announced that we're on our final approach to Managua so I better wrap this up. Thanks for traveling with me on this, and so many other adventures through the years. Delta may not have tracked your frequent prayer miles, but according to my calculations, you're heading for diamond medallion again this year.

Update #5 From The 2015 MENA Conference

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Rob and Susan Turner, two of our American delegates to the Middle East/North Africa conference, just sent us this update:

We met this amazing man and his wife and children from northern Iraq. He is a Chaldean, like Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans.

As a young man, he began to pray about a deeper fellowship with Jesus. God spoke to him in multiple dreams and visions and through these he became a believer in Jesus Christ. This was sometime around the first Iraq war in 1991.

He married began to raise a family while worshipping in Christian churches in the area. God's protection of his family and him was displayed in 2004 when Al-Qaeda attacked his car with 200 shots. They prayed during the entire time and no one in his car was hurt, not even a scratch.

God has opened several doors for ministry during the ensuing years. One of his primary ministries is church planting through small home churches. There is currently an eight church alliance with four more about to expand the alliance. God's Word is spreading through the work and testimony of our new friend. He told us about four occurrences of Muslims calling him to hear more about Jesus.

Recently ISIS came within 10 miles of their home, and although many people including some of his relatives fled, he and his family chose to stay in their home with a complete sense of peace and faith in God. The next morning, ISIS had been pushed back by the local army.

Today ISIS occupies a region within an hour of their home, yet they continue to rest and rely on the peace of God and power of Christ to fulfill his plan to reach people in a place desperate for a Savior.

It is evident despite many challenges past and present in Iraq, God is spreading the gospel through servants like this brother and his family. We can only say we are blessed and encouraged beyond words by their deep commitment and sacrifice in following God's calling.

Please keep praying for our family working throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

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